I was going to title this review "Not Your Mother's Romance" but I decided to refrain.
The great Liz Maverick with her Maverick Reading Smackdown
got me thinking about the fact that the last book that I read by a man that wasn't non fiction was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Why haven't I read more fiction by men? Somehow without realizing it, but my fiction reading has become limited to women. I read women's fiction, mysteries and thrillers written by women, romance written by women. Well, I decided that needed to change so I ordered a copy of Erotomania: A Romance by Francis Levy.
Now I should mention that I know Francis slightly. He's the co-director of The Philoctetes Center, where I seem to spend a great deal of my free time. So in a way, I was kind of reluctant to read the book. What if I didn't like it? This is the dilemma that comes up a lot when I'm reading fiction by friends and acquaintances. You end up doing that old actor's trick of giving generic compliments like "You were so brave!" or "I could never do what you just did." Or pretending that you are just speechless from their performance in the good way.
I'm happy to say that I didn't have that problem with Erotomania: A Romance. At first I was trepidatious. I mean come on, there are chimps screwing on the cover! What had I gotten myself into? Yes, they are cute Bonobo chimps, who are apparently one of the few species to have sex face to face besides humans, but still they are chimps screwing! What would the women over at Smart Bitches think? Hmm! And while I've read erotica and erotic romance by the likes of Susie Bright, Rachel Kramer Bussell, Emma Holly, Susan Johnson and a host of others, I've never really gotten into Henry Miller (I skimmed the Tropic of Cancer in high school before moving over to Anais Nin). I'm also a little wary of books where the couples screw for pages and pages, and then all of a sudden we're supposed to believe they are in love (As you can tell I've read way too many Harlequin Blazes that end up that way).
The plot in a nutsell: James Moran has been having anonymous sex with a woman, sex so intense that it produces temporary amnesia afterwards. The sex is so intense that he can't think of anything but when the next encounter will be. However, increasingly, James wants to have a real relationship with this woman, whose name he learns is Monica. Erotomania: A Romance is his journey towards realizing that dream. And it is a romance, make no mistake. Once they get past the sex, they manage to forge a modern relationship that anyone can recognize and sympathize with. Everything from arguing over their favorite TV shows, to where to have dinner.
Levy adds a modern twist to this tale. The sex between the two of them is so explosive that they have to move into a concrete bunker in order to avoid disturbing their neighbors, leading one to wonder if it is possible for two people to be labeled a lethal weapon! James meets Bill, a homeless gourmet chef after being beaten up, in a Greyhound bus station. He takes him home, and gives him shelter. In return, Bill cooks for him. For awhile they live in a strange menage a trois of food and reality television. There are also sessions with General Shapiro, a rather odd relationship counselor, as James and Monica try to navigate the new territory of their relationship in a way that they both can live with.
What about the sex I can hear you ask. Well there is a great deal of it, particularly in the beginning of the book, and it is incredibly raw and animalistic, which is actually where the relationship is between the two main characters. We're not talking ten page sex scenes here but it is rather graphic and some people might be put off by some of the stuff that these two get up too. This is not making love in any sense of the word. All the words are used (and you know what words I'm talking about).
Levy lightens the mood with not just a great deal of humor (I laughed out loud several times while reading the book on the subway which is rare for me) and thoughtfulness. Yes he throws in references to everything from Survivor to Jackson Pollack to Freud but it never comes across as pretentious or too 'lit fic' for the average reader who wouldn't know Rabelais from Raffi. The book isn't perfect. I found it hard to understand how Monica and James hooked up when he didn't know either her name or her phone number, nor could he remember her address. And at times the characters came across as a little self-absorbed.
The book is incredibly poignant as James talks about his love for Monica which has taken him completely by surprise. I enjoyed this book and I was sorry to leave Monica and James in the end but I closed the book feeling as if I had left two people with a happy ending. I look forward to seeing what Levy comes up with for his next book. If you are looking for something completely different, a look at modern relationships from a male point of view, and a well-written character study, then pick up Erotomania: A Romance.